Paramount amongst his
controversial decisions in my opinion, is his order to get Nuhu Ribadu
and Nasir El-Rufai back to Nigeria from their self-imposed exile.
Having brought them back home, President Jonathan conspicuously
refused (for some incomprehensible reasons) to integrate them into his
administration in spite of their known credentials. Some claim that
the President sought to avoid the type of controversies generated by
both men in the Presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo since they both have
the reputation of being polarizing figures while others claim that the
President simply feared being outshined by the charisma of the duo.
Whatever the truth may be, the
fact at the moment is that Nasir El-Rufai has become an infamous
intellectual arrowhead of the northern elite avowed to destabilizing
and dislodging the government of Goodluck Jonathan. A tea party
mentality has been quietly launched by the northern enemies of
Goodluck Jonathan to ensure that he does not serve beyond one term in
the Presidential palace. A smart counter-move of proposing
constitutional amendment to allow for a single six-year term is so far
serving as a potent threat to take the wind off the sails of the
In all of these though, Nasir
El-Rufai is standing firm as an unrelenting factor in throwing wedges
between the sprinting feet of Jonathan’s administration. Jonathan’s
closeness to former President Olusegun Obasanjo is obviously not doing
him any good in this respect. The President however, seems to be
holding on to a principled position by making no public move to
desecrate Olusegun Obasanjo or throw a distance between them both as
his predecessor late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua did to appease his tribal
constituency. Still, his enemies are stopping at nothing to drag him
down even if it means dislodging his perceived mentor, President
Olusegun Obasanjo for a humble beginning.
Nasir El-Rufai hit the
headlines lately for his so-called “spectacular” testimony before the
senate committee investigating the ills of the Bureau for Public
Enterprise (BPE). Media reports have so far uncovered that several
testimonies before the committee have fingered the choices and
decisions made by Olusegun Obasanjo during his Presidency as being
responsible for the problems that have trailed the BPE till the
present day and the failure of the privatization process that sought
to anchor a liberal economic policy on the nation.
El-Rufai has suggested that
the privatization of some companies ordered by Olusegun Obasanjo were
incompetently prepared against all good counsels. Those done by Nasir
El-Rufai independently without deep presidential involvement were
suggested to be thriving and yielding fruitful economic dividends also
till the present day.
But these charges of
incompetent decisions alone have been sufficient to burst some
swelling bubbles. Subtle grudges in all guises are now being carried
into the open air in the clad of expertise and insider knowledge.
Virtually everyone who has a word to say is not short of abuses on
Olusegun Obasanjo. El-Rufai’s testimony is now being termed
“spectacular revelations”. Even a former military Governor who, in his
days in military service, may not have been qualified to serve as
Obasanjo’s shoe-shiner, is now calling for the prosecution of Olusegun
It is an old fight in a new
terrain, advanced by tireless soldiers, who will stop at nothing until
their victim lies motionless. The Obasanjo-Bashing machine has gained
momentum once again.
While every independent
observer will welcome the idea of a judicial inquiry, if not outright
prosecution of former President Olusegun Obasanjo for the plain reason
of establishing the simple truth, the underlying facts must be
compelling enough to justify the expenditure of the tax-payer’s money
on judicial adventurism. For one, if every past leader of Nigeria is
to be subjected to judicial inquiries and prosecution for incompetent
decisions taken while in office, all former leaders (Shehu Shagari,
Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Abdulsalami Abubakar and Umaru
Musa Yar’Adua in post-mortem capacity) should have been sentenced to
prison if not death by firing squad for wrong decisions taken while
nothing positive was achieved to move the country forward. Indeed,
George W. Bush should have been in prison for taking the decision to
take America to war against Iraq.
Moreover, while leaders are
expected to do their jobs right for all the pay that they take home,
public officers remain human and like everyone of us, errors of
judgment in the choices that they make are simply a part of what their
service is all about. While we seek to keep such errors at their
barest minimum, we do not seek to make such leaders super-human no
matter what they conceive of themselves. The crucial watershed should
then be to distinguish between an error in good faith and an error
committed with the intention to harm the interest of the nation.
Until a clear circumstantial
pointer is provided for the latter option, calls for the prosecution
of President Obasanjo will remain what they are: Political activism in
the quest for contemporary relevance. After all, like every other
leader before him, the academic qualification held by Olusegun
Obasanjo was known to the entire nation before he was elected
President. While this should not serve as an excuse for failure to
deliver in the challenging office that President Obasanjo took up
voluntarily without being forced, it is common knowledge too that a
President called Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Chukwuma Soludo or Pat Utomi
would have had little plausible excuse to offer for making the wrong
choices in a privatization process.
If all these facts are known,
– above all to the media – the motives of vocal critics should be
called to question at the very least. While every voice is adding its
own bit to the raging inferno of character assassination, some voices
declared pity and sympathy for Olusegun Obasanjo recently. They claim
that Nasir El-Rufai had been seen as the last man standing by Obasanjo
while all erstwhile presidential friends have deserted him. The
express dismay that Nasir El-Rufai will now be throwing stones at
Olusegun Obasanjo, unfairly.
Other views express the fear
that the senate committee was itself created to target the demise of
Nasir El-Rufai without providing evidence on why and how the man
should be targeted in the first place. Even if the concession is
granted that a bit of truism may be in all assertions as there is
hardly any smoke without fire except the electronically-generated
dancehall smokes, there is no doubt that Nasir El-Rufai would have
sung a completely different tune from another hymnbook altogether if
he was testifying before the senate committee in his capacity as a
member of the Jonathan administration.
While this cannot be the
overriding excuse to have El-Rufai in the Jonathan administration,
there is no doubt that the man is a rare product of the northern
intellectual base with quite a huge reservoir of positive ideas up his
sleeves if given the proper challenging task. Unlike Nuhu Ribadu who
is simply forthright and duty-conscious, El-Rufai has the superior
intellectual stock in addition to the qualities that Nuhu Ribadu has.
How President Jonathan could have allowed such materials to waste away
by the roadside during his administration, still beats my imagination.
That being said, it is
definitely not difficult to understand the frustrations of Naisr
El-Rufai. Nuhu Ribadu has retreated to the background after a failed
presidential bid that has exposed him to the limelight for future
undertakings. Struggling to maintain the spotlight on himself, Nasir
El-Rufai has chosen to tread a dangerous path of shifting alliances
that may portray a sense of treachery and egocentrism. Goodluck
Jonathan was a good guy yesterday while Muhammadu Buari was a bad guy.
Today, it’s the direct opposite. A former good friend in exile was
suddenly not good enough to be supported for the presidency. Today,
Nasir El-Rufai leads the intellectual fight against the serving
President, who he once declared to have liked. A fight launched on a
divisive tribal platform that threatens the existence of the country.
The public watches and an image is gradually being nurtured. Images
that may count on a final day of reckoning.
Striking out at Olusegun
Obasanjo with the collateral impact of weakening Goodluck Jonathan may
be a serious and dangerous gamble if truly intended. Voluble critics
calling from their ‘northern rooftop’ for the prosecution and
beheading of Olusegun Obasanjo for incompetent decisions taken during
his presidency, suddenly forget that vehement calls were made only
‘yesterday’ from the same ‘northern rooftop’ to make governance
impossible for Goodluck Jonathan in view of the perceived breach of
the zoning arrangement. These critics seem to forget that public
memory is fitted with some natural archives of sort.
Southern collaborators like
the respectable and adorable Femi Falana jumping aboard the
anti-Obasanjo bandwagon should be cautious and be very sure to have
credible and actionable facts handy that are worthy of standing
judicial tests before continuing this outdated cry for the crucifixion
of Olusegun Obasanjo. President Jonathan should ensure that his choice
of Presidential spokesman found in Reuben Abati does a better job of
countering El-Rufai’s propaganda machine. Else, enough is enough and
old Obasanjo should be left in peace to continue contributing his
quota to the well being of the nation as an elder statesman, no matter
whose feet he had stepped upon while serving as President.
Frisky Larr is author of the book “Nigeria’s Journalistic
Militantism” probing into the poor role of Journalism in Nigeria!